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Baby Boomers, Healthy Aging and Job Performance

There has been an inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion about the issues related to the aging of the legal pro­fes­sion. Stephanie intro­duced us to the arti­cle “the Gray­ing Bar: let’s not for­get the ethics” by David Giacalone.

In short: sta­tis­tics about the increas­ing ratio of lawyers over 70 in active prac­tice, on the one hand, and the gen­eral inci­dence of Alzheimer’s and other demen­tias, on the other, lead David to point out an increas­ing like­li­hood that some lawyers may be prac­tic­ing in less than ideal con­di­tions for their clients, beyond a rea­son­able “brain age”. The ques­tion then becomes: who and how can solve this prob­lem, which is only going to grow given demo­graphic trends?.

We are not legal experts, but would like to inform the debate by offer­ing 10 con­sid­er­a­tions on healthy aging and job per­for­mance from a neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal point of view, that apply to all occupations:

1– We should talk more about change than about decline, as Sharon Beg­ley wrote recently in her great arti­cle on The Upside of Aging — WSJ.com (sub­scrip­tion required).

We dis­cussed some of these effects with Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg, who wrote his great book The Wis­dom Para­dox pre­cisely on this point, at The Exec­u­tive Brain and How our Minds Can Grow Stronger.

2– Some skills improve as we age: In our “Exer­cis­ing Our Brains” Classes, we typ­i­cally explain how some areas typ­i­cally improve as we age, such as self-regulation, emo­tional func­tion­ing and Wis­dom (which means mov­ing from Prob­lem solv­ing to Pat­tern recog­ni­tion). As a lawyer accu­mu­lates more cases under his/ her belt, he or she devel­ops an auto­matic “intu­ition” for solu­tions and strate­gies. As long as the envi­ron­ment doesn’t change too rapidly, this grow­ing wis­dom is very valuable.

3– …whereas, yes, oth­ers typ­i­cally decline: effort­ful problem-solving for novel sit­u­a­tions, pro­cess­ing speed, work­ing mem­ory, atten­tion and men­tal imagery. In other words, the capac­ity to learn and adapt to new environments.

4– Now, there is a key dif­fer­ence between not remem­ber­ing where I put my car keys today…which hap­pens to all when we are too absorbed in some­thing else and is not by itself a big deal…and not remem­ber­ing why I need keys to open my car. Some­times we tend to worry too much.

5– Stud­ies have shown a tremen­dous vari­abil­ity in how well peo­ple age and how, to a large extent, our actions influ­ence the rate of improve­ment and/ or decline. Our aware­ness that “it’s not all doom and gloom” and that there’s much we can do is impor­tant. You may want to learn more with our Exer­cise Your Brain DVD. You can also learn more on the Suc­cess­ful Aging of the Healthy Brain: a beau­ti­ful essay by Mar­ian Dia­mond on how to keep our brains and minds active and fit through­out our lives.

6– If we want to max­i­mize our chances of healthy aging, we should focus on 4 main “brain health” pil­lars: men­tal stim­u­la­tion, phys­i­cal exer­cise, stress man­age­ment and a bal­anced diet. And the ear­lier the bet­ter to build a Cog­ni­tive Reserve. More info at The Dana Guide to Brain Health book review.

7– In terms of men­tal stim­u­la­tion, we must ensure we engage with activ­i­ties that pro­vide us nov­elty, vari­ety and con­stant chal­lenge to exer­cise and cross-train our “men­tal mus­cles” (cog­ni­tive and emo­tional skills). This is our best “brain food”.

8– Computer-based brain exer­cise pro­grams are great vehi­cles or tools to help us with our stress man­age­ment (here) and men­tal stim­u­la­tion (here) needs, as com­pli­ments to other activ­i­ties in our daily lives. This is why you are read­ing more about the Brain Fit­ness move­ment these days, grounded on the research behind adult neu­ro­plas­tic­ity (Brain Fit­ness Glos­sary). And, of course, why we launched our Brain Fit­ness Cen­ter.

9– Retire­ment?: baby boomers (and many healthy adults over 62!) want to remain active and men­tally stim­u­lated beyond arbi­trary retire­ment ages. Given demo­graphic trends, this will cre­ate a large group of peo­ple work­ing in the 60s, 70s, 80s… and soci­ety at large will have to adapt its edu­ca­tion, health and employ­ment poli­cies to ben­e­fit from this trend.

10– With a chal­lenge being that, by def­i­n­i­tion, and going back to the legal pro­fes­sion dis­cus­sion, a per­son with Alzheimer’s is not aware of his or her con­di­tion. One of the affected areas are the frontal lobes and our so-called exec­u­tive func­tions, such as the abil­ity to self-monitor one­self. That being the case, maybe legal firms and trade asso­ci­a­tions will need to set up peri­odic and exter­nal neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal assess­ments, sim­i­lar to the con­cept of hav­ing to pass dri­ving tests, to ensure that peo­ple in active prac­tice pos­sess the min­i­mum abil­i­ties required to per­form their duties (some of those abil­i­ties will be gen­eral, and some spe­cific for each occupation).

David-thanks for start­ing a needed discussion.

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